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Military combat marks the brain

Regions involved in memory and attention changed after soldiers' deployment

A single four-month deployment to Afghanistan is associated with brain changes and diminished attention, Dutch scientists report. Most changes went away a year and a half after returning from combat, suggesting that the brain can largely heal itself — and that longer breaks between combat tours might be a good idea.

The study, which focused on healthy Dutch soldiers, reveals how the brain responds to stress outside of a laboratory, says clinical neuroscientist Rajita Sinha of the Yale University School of Medicine. “It’s a nice way to start looking at natural high levels of stress we experience as humans,” she says.

Although the soldiers came back mentally and physically healthy, in Afghanistan they had fought, come under enemy fire and seen their fellow soldiers and civilians wounded or dead.

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